Cards, Nova set for Top 25 clash

No. 23 Louisville (10-3, 1-0) won their league opener Wednesday at South Florida. Saturday afternoon, the Cardinals will tangle with No. 18 Villanova (13-2, 1-1) in Philly.

The Cardinals eased into Big East play with a relatively easy 71-57 win over USF Wednesday in Tampa, with junior forward Earl Clark leading the way with 22 points and 9 rebounds.

Now, Louisville's league schedule is going to heat up – starting with a tough road contest at No. 18 Villanova Saturday afternoon. After facing the Wildcats, who advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 last season, the Cardinals will host No. 12 Notre Dame on Monday followed by a visit from No. 1 Pittsburgh next Saturday.

"The Big East does not care what the coaches think or feel because the presidents, athletic directors and television run this league," Pitino said. "It's all about exposure for TV and money. We make more money and get more exposure than any other conference."

Edgar Sosa is averaging 15 points in
the past two games.

Statistically, Louisville and Villanova are virtually evenly matched in nearly every major statistical category. Both teams average 75 points per game while holding opponents to 60 points. Both teams also out-rebound the opposition by about six boards per game. The only significant difference between the two teams statistically comes at the free throw line where Villanova is making 77 percent for the season. Louisville has struggled at times from the line, connecting on just 66 percent this year.

The Wildcats present several challenges, particularly in the backcourt with guards Scott Reynolds, Corey Stokes and Corey Fischer. Reynolds averages 15.9 points and poured in 40 points in Villanova's 89-85 overtime win over Seton Hall on Jan. 6. Stokes and Fischer, both sophomores, average 10 points per contest, while 6'8, 230-pound Dante Cunningham anchors the frontcourt. Cunningham, a senior, leads Villanova in scoring (17.1) and rebounding (7.9).

Pitino is especially worried about Cunningham, who will likely go up against freshman Samardo Samuels in the post. Samuels, Louisville talented freshman center, struggled with foul problems in the Cardinals last two games against Kentucky and South Florida.

"It's a problem because Cunningham plays like a small power forward," Pitino said. "It's very difficult for our freshmen to guard him. That's our biggest matchup problem in this game. Samardo has got to be smart, close out and make sure he doesn't reach in. We've got to play a really intelligent basketball game."

Though Villanova, which ranks 10th nationally in free throw percentage, figures to have an advantage at the line the Cardinals have been more accurate from the free throw line in recent games. Louisville has made more than 71 percent of their free throws in each of their last four games, including 17 of 22 against UNLV and 19 of 23 vs. Kentucky.

Continuing their hot shooting at the foul line could play a big role down the stretch Saturday against the Wildcats.

"We've worked on balance, technique, repetition and I think it's making us a pretty good foul shooting team," Pitino said.

Tip-off is at 12 noon and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Reserve freshman center George Goode did not play against USF on Wednesday with a stress fracture in his right leg. The 6-foot-8 Goode has been limited in practice for more than a week but remains available for game action.

"George is not going to practice and we're not going to play him in games until he's healed," said Pitino. "But he could get five minutes in any given game."

If Goode doesn't play against Villanova, 6'9 freshman Terrence Jennings will likely receive the backup minutes behind starting center Samardo Samuels. Jennings played a season-high 17 minutes against South Florida, responding with 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist and three blocked shots.

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